July 21, 2017
Lamont: Fix the Churchill Rail Line Now, Send Feds the Bill
Winnipeg, MB - Dougald Lamont, who is running for leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, says there is no justification for Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s foot-dragging on fixing the Churchill rail line or waiting for commitments from Omnitrax or the Federal Government.
Lamont reiterated his call - first issued a month ago, on June 20 - for the Province to forget Omnitrax, and start fixing the rail line on its own without delay. Lamont had said the Manitoba Government should take over maintenance of the Churchill railbed and rails for the long term - simply treating the rail line for what it is: an essential piece of strategic transportation and economic infrastructure, no different than a provincial highway. Via Rail and other clients could pay to use it.
Lamont said that since he first called for action, new developments support his position. The province has stalled and there have been continual revelations that Omnitrax has neither the will nor the ability to pay for repairs.
Lamont said the province needs to act now before the construction season is lost to weather, and not delay things further by going to Ottawa with cap in hand.
“Every day Pallister wastes by doing nothing is another day we could be rebuilding a lifeline to our northern communities,” said Lamont. “The Province should cut Omnitrax out of the equation, fix the line and send the Federal Government a bill for their share.”
Lamont said that Omnitrax shouldn’t see one more single dime of public money, when the American company has been squeezing the rail line for returns without putting promised money back in.
Media reports in The National Post suggest that Omnitrax - whose CEO is former PC MLA and Conservative MP Merv Tweed - has routinely failed to perform millions of dollars in promised maintenance. The line has lost clients - including Manitoba Hydro - because the line grew unreliable. Omnitrax also pocketed subsidies intended to ease grain shipments through the port. While it is headquartered in Denver, Colorado, its Canadian subsidiary is incorporated in Nova Scotia to minimize Canadian taxes.
Lamont said that the public should not be fooled into thinking the rail line is unsustainable, saying that Churchill and the north should not pay the price for Omnitrax’s failure.
“This is not just a quick fix. This is a long term investment in the future of our province,” said Lamont. “We don’t think twice about spending $100 million or more on infrastructure in Winnipeg to shave 15 minutes off a suburban commute. This is a line to the only deep-sea Arctic port in the prairie provinces.”
As for concerns about the Province’s ability to pay, Lamont said that Pallister has been fear-mongering about Manitoba’s fiscal capacity.
“Bankrupts can’t pay their bills - deadbeats won’t. Pallister’s government is not bankrupt, it's a deadbeat,” said Lamont. “If Manitoba is truly in such dire straits, how can the Premier afford a multimillion dollar tax cut to the wealthy while voting to give himself a raise?”